Gender Definition When studying “gender,” the first task is to clearly define what it is not. Gender simply can not be defined by one’s anatomy. In other words, gender is not categorized as male or female. Stating this fact is of the utmost importance, because most people would define gender in such a way. In fact, some dictionaries actually define gender as “See sex.” So now that I have withdrawn that determinant, I must conclude that gender is something which is determined socially. Unfortunately, the concept is far too broad to have one clear definition. It can be studied in so many different ways, and it is because of this that there are a multitude of theories about it.
Learning about differing theories stimulates one’s own beliefs about gender and its usefulness. Every sociology litterateur is aware of the socialization theory. Socialization and the study of gender are often linked. In terms of gender, the socialization theory suggests that children are taught to behave a certain way according to their sex. Boys are taught to be masculine and girls to be feminine.
For example, parents will often buy boys trucks or army toys and for girls, they will buy dolls and playhouse sort-of toys. Boys are played with in a rough manner and are taught to “tough it out” when they get hurt. Girls are taught to be more passive and expressive of their feelings. Also, children learn by observing their parents and the roles that they play. Girls love pretending to be the “mommy.” Chores are also divided.
Those chores that are more “masculine” are for the boys such as taking out the trash and raking leaves. Girls help in the kitchen and with cleaning. The socialization theory is accepted by many, but it does not account for everything. This theory is limiting in that it doesnot allow one to study gender in a macro sense. This theory cannot explain why or how gender came about.
It also doesn’t provide an answer for how gender inequality began or how it can be minimized. Many theorists take the socialization theory and expand on it. One of the most unique theories on gender comes from Judith Lorber, a professor of sociology. Lorber’s book, “Paradoxes of Gender,” introduces her idea of gender being a social institution. Lorber views gender inequality from this perspective.
It is difficult to explain all aspects of Lorber’s theory without sounding repetitive, because so much is interrelated. She critiques all of the popular beliefs about gender. Gender is not the assumptions or beliefs about males and females; it is not the roles that males and females play; it is not male and female status; it is certainly not anatomy, and it is not strictly socialization. “Gender is a social structure that has its origins in the development of human culture, not in biology or procreation. – As is true of other institutions, gender’s history can be traced, its structure examined, and its changing effects researched.” (Lorber, p.1) LLorber does not view gender at the individual level, but rather as a social construction that establishes norms for individuals which are built into the major societal organizations. The development of gender inequality is the main focus of Lorber’s discussion of gender.
According to Lorber, roles are gendered. Either sex can participate in opposite gendered roles. The problem is that males are expected to be masculine and women to be feminine. Those jobs that are more feminine have lower statuses, thus lower pay. So we now begin to see where inequality comes into play.
An interesting point that Lorber makes about this is that women are to blame for this as well as men. When a woman chooses to go into a female-dominated field, she is perpetuating inequality by contributing to masculinism. However, when a female works in a male-dominated field, she must become a social man. For example, in the work force, CEOs are supposed to possess masculine traits. A female CEO must be aggressive, dominant, and non-sympathetic. So when females become social men, they are looked down upon.
Most of these women are thought to be too aggressive and unappealing. They have failed at being a “woman.” The same goes for men in female-dominated jobs, although for men, there isn’t much of a problem simply because there aren’t very many men who take feminine jobs due to their lower statuses. Naturally, female-dominated jobs are seen as feminine. If a man were to take a female-dominated job, he would be expected to act as a social woman. The fact that a person must behave according to the gender of his/her job demonstrates the idea of gender being institutionalized. The process is known as gender differentiation.
So why don’t more women get into male-dominated jobs? Lorber explains that women aren’t viewed as having what it takes to be successful in these jobs. Men are in positions of power, therefore they will generally hire someone like themselves–a man. Another important distinction between Lorber’s theory of gender and others is that she asks “why” gender inequality exists. She has to ask how gender came about in the first place. She gives a thorough discussion about the history of gender.
According to Lorber, gender was born in kinship. When fire was invented, new weapons resulted and hunting practices changed. This new form of hunting required new skills, and this lead to children taking longer before they could become members of this group. An increased in food meant that fertility increased and more children lived. This lead to the division of labor between child-minders and non-child-minders.
Logically, the women were the child-minders and would gather and process food and hides and make the necessary tools. Non-child-minders *males* would make their weapons and hunt for food. It was not women’s anatomy/biology that made them more nurturing than man, but rather their anatomy placed them into a more nurturing role. “There is no need to posit special ‘killer’ or ‘maternal’ instincts in males and females to explain the assignment of these roles.” *Lorber, p.128) SSocialization rooted from the placement of male and females in separate roles. Females had to teach other younger females how to be care-takers and males had to teach younger males how to hunt.
Both roles were vital to the survival of the social system. So why is “manly” work valued more today? This is directly related to waged and unwaged labor. Unwaged labor is work done by mostly women in the home. Childcare, laundry, cooking, and cleaning are all examples of unwaged labor. As shown earlier, women were placed in this type of work long ago, therefore jobs that have feminine traits such as nurturing, caring, and patience are not valued financially. Lorber makes a strong point that because gender has been present for so long, we must rethink everything with a gender-sensitive lens.
Other theorists on gender offer interesting perspectives as well. Kate Millett, author of Sexual Politics (1970) dealt with male supremacy. She believed that it was socially enforced through socialization of early childhood, family restrictions placed on women, male tendency toward violence and in other institutions. Millett was criticized for not explaining how male supremacy came about historically. Shulamith Firestone, author of The Dialectic of Sex (1970), accepted the traditional idea that male dominance was natural. She agreed with Millett in that male supremacy was socially enforced, but that its roots are with the biological family.
Firestone was able to move further than Millett because she pointed to a certain institution that caused it-the family. “The family is the primary institution through which women participate in this society. While Firestone ignored the important fact that women work outside the home, even working women give the family their primary allegiance. Wherever a woman is in this society, it is the family, and the ideology of the family that contributes most to shaping her beliefs and maintaining her oppression.” (P.17) JJuliet Mitchell, author of Women’s Estate (1971), criticized both Millett and Firestone. She stated that Firestone’s radical feminist outlook was too limiting.
She states that Millett and Firestone see the relevance of socialism but only in terms of the economy. Mitchell urges that we develop a socialist theory of women’s oppression and of the family. She analyses the historic failure of the socialist movement to deal with the oppression of women. She urged that we separate the family structures that compose it: sexuality, reproduction, and socialization of the young. It was then portrayed as a natural institution within which women performed natural function: sex, childbirth, and the child-rearing.
Mitchell describes the unity of the family in three ways. First, it is always formed as an economic unit. Second, the family’s unity is formed ideologically. And lastly, she explains that relative autonomy of the family from history by its ‘biosocial’ formed the basic mother/father/child relationship. In this relationship, within the family, the person is socially constructed and male supremacy takes shape. Sheila Rowbotham, author of Woman’s Consciousness, Man’s World, does not believe that believe that men and women are determined either by anatomy or economics. She shares Lorber’s view that women were subordinated to men before capitalism, and that this has affected the position of women in capitalist society.
She also would agree with Lorber that women contribute to their oppression. “Our sexual conditioning means that we submit more readily than men to this intolerable state of affairs.” (P. 121) Gender studies lead to a variety of interpretations and explanations. What do we gain from them, though? By studying gender, we can better understand how to minimize inequality. Some of the theorists believe that radical means will result in drastic change.
For example, Firestone believed that if we would be making major progress if we could somehow “outgrow nature” and reproduce outside the womb. Lorber admits that a gender neutral society is far too radical of an idea, because it would call for a complete reorganization of everything. Every institution would have to be exactly half male and half female, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and heterosexuals would have to have everything equal, etc. Even though a genderless society isn’t attainable, I believe that Lorber would agree that by being aware of gender inequality, we can at least change it at the micro level. This over much time, should decrease the amount of it at the macro level. Lorber believes that the first step is to realize that gender is everywhere.
Every institution is gendered. If people fail to see that, then they will not see the whole picture of inequality. This is best described using the birdcage effect. The birdcage effect is when only single events of oppression are viewed. This single event is represented by one bar of the cage.
When only one bar is seen, it looks as if the cage is escapable, but when you step back and look at all the bars, it is apparent that the cage is a trap. According to Lorber, society needs to step back in history and rethink it using a gender sensitive lens. By doing this, all the “bars” will present themselves and we will realize just how trapped in gender inequality we are.